January 31, 2020

For the Parent Who’s Poor in Spirit

By Jeanne Harrison

Years ago, a little survey was taking social media by storm. Parents asked their preschoolers a series of questions and shared the adorable responses online. (“How old is Mommy?” 500! “How much does Daddy weigh?” 10 pounds!)

I called my preschooler onto the couch, “Come sit with me and answer these questions.”

“Okay!” She clambered onto my lap.

“What does Mommy like to do?”

“Be on the computer,” she chirped.

Hmmm…fair enough. “What makes Mommy sad?”

She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Playing with us?”

I frowned. “No, sweetie, you don’t understand the question. What makes me sad?” She eyed me. I eyed her back. “I don’t hate playing—never mind, let’s move on.” I scanned the survey for a shoe-in. “Okay, what is Mommy good at?”

Her face lit up. “Oh, I know! You’re very good at fighting with Daddy.”

It was a dark day in the Harrison household.

Two hours later, when I was still crying over the survey, Clint cornered me in the den. “Honey, she’s a child. She still puts her pants on backwards. Do not take this to heart!”

He was right, of course. But it didn’t matter to me. All I heard was failure, failure, failure. The thing about parenting is, there are so many opportunities for failure…or at least it feels that way. Not enough vegetables? Failure. Bad grades? Failure. Cavities, tantrums, screen time? Failure, failure, failure.

The older they grow, the more profound the heartache. A few months ago I retreated to a solitary place and cried for hours because Clint and I could no longer deny that one of our kids needed professional counseling. She was battling so much anger and anxiety, and try as we might, we couldn’t forge a breakthrough. I remember crying out to God over and over, “I know it’s not Your will for me to be a terrible parent, but I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do! You have to help me!”

I’ve never had a keener sense of my own spiritual poverty.

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He wasn’t talking about people who feel sorry for themselves. Or bad about themselves. He was talking about people who are empty of themselves. People who recognize their need for God because they’ve reached the very end of their own efforts.

To embrace poverty of spirit as a parent is radically countercultural. Parenting in the digital age means running on the hamster wheel of perfection, day in and day out. (Or at least, making it look like you do.) Let’s be honest, it feels good. Every time I Marie Kondo a dresser, I feel a surge of dopamine. Success! It’s even better if I snap a picture and share it on my family’s group text. (Organizing kids’ clothes while we play! #multitasking) It feels so good, I want to try a little harder. Read a book about discipline. Limit technology. Learn a new recipe. It’s like building a house of cards, one good deed at a time, hoping that eventually I’ll achieve an empire of perfection: Happy home. Thriving children. Good mom.

Until, of course, it crumbles.

The problem with taking the credit for success in parenting is that it dooms us to take the blame for failure. Carey Nieuwhof likes to say, “If you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart.”

Boy, have I let failure go to my heart over the years.

That day as I cried before God about our daughter needing counseling, I felt impoverished. Utterly destitute, with nothing to offer and everything to lose. Somewhere along the way, I realized my hands were raised. Sometimes when I worship, I raise my hands in reverence. I imagine myself bowed down and Christ elevated. This wasn’t like that. My hands were raised not in reverence but in desperation, the way a toddler reaches up to Dad when she wants to be held.

Here’s the best part about becoming a parent who’s poor in spirit: When you have nothing left to offer—no more strategies, no more wisdom—when you’ve reached the very end of yourself and you feel scared and broken, you get to be the toddler and let God be the grownup. You get to run to Him with outstretched arms, climb in His lap, and cry.

When I had finally exhausted myself, I stood up in total peace. Not because I had answers, or even a plan, but because I had nothing. Having nothing is surprisingly freeing. It feels weightless. Quiet. Expectant. With nothing in my own hands, I knew everything was in God’s hands.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). This means that the reward for recognizing our need of God…is God. It’s divine rescue, salvation, and eternal hope.

Blessed are you—weary Mom or Dad — who feels defeated. Blessed are you who are raising babies and never (ever) sleep. Blessed are you when teenagers revile you and hate you, and you secretly want to strangle them. Blessed are you parents who desperately need God, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

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